England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day July 18, 2014

'I was probably a bit naive' - Ballance

It was been an 'interesting' week for England's No. 3 but the only aspect of it that should really matter is how he is slotting into a key position in the batting order

It will not be the first time this week that Gary Ballance's picture has featured on the back pages of the newspapers, but this time he may take far more pleasure in it.

Earlier in the week, pictures of Ballance, without a shirt and clearly the worse for wear after a night out, were published in several papers. He had, it transpired, unwound from the demanding Test in Nottingham, by venturing into the city with several team-mates and, after several hours drinking, was photographed in a somewhat unflattering state by other club goers. Batting it seems, is thirsty work.

While the England team management took an admirably mature response to the incident - they reminded Ballance of his responsibilities and the media that he was a young man unwinding on a night off - the player admitted the episode had been "a bit embarrassing."

So it was a relief that, a couple of days later, he should find himself featured in the same publications for reasons that should make him proud. On a pitch that remains helpful to seam bowlers, Ballance recorded the second century of his brief Test career to keep his side in the game against India.

Ballance is a wonderfully no-frills cricketer. There is little pretty about him, little outrageous and little extravagant. He is pragmatic; all substance and little style.

And he is just what England require. After the gaping hole created by the departure of Jonathan Trott, it was thought that either Ian Bell or Joe Root would fill the No. 3 position.

Instead the job was given to a rookie. And Ballance has shown that, despite a reluctance to come forward, he has the talent and temperament to flourish at this level. He leaves well, defends well and is powerful on the cut, in particular, and the pull. He also has another gear - a savage, thrashing sort of mode - that, he hinted at in a nine-ball spell when he punished Stuart Binny for five boundaries including two in succession to reach his century.

Here he enjoyed one moment of fortune when, on 32, he survived an edge off the unfortunate Binny, that flew between the wicketkeeper and first slip. But he has now scored two centuries and two half-centuries in eight Test innings and shown the welcome ability both to grind it out when necessary and accelerate when appropriate. Whatever England's other problems, they appear to have found a gem in Ballance.

His comments on the innings could have been used to describe almost every innings he has played for England to date.

"I just thought 'I've got to scrap hard here," he said. "I thought it's probably not going to be pretty or very exciting to watch. But at the end of the day, it's about doing a job. I tried to be patient.

"I knew I was going to play and miss, so tried to leave as much as I could and just wait for anything with a bit of width or anything too straight. Luckily, I fought hard, got an edge through the slips early on, and it's paid off, being patient."

His record at Lord's is remarkable. After scoring a century here for Yorkshire against Middlesex earlier in the season - his maiden first-class game on the ground - he followed it up with a maiden Test century against Sri Lanka in June in just his second Test. He also scored a century on the ground as a Harrow schoolboy in the historic match against Eton.

While Ballance has made a fine start to life in the No. 3 position, there are those who think he could open the batting. Certainly Dave Houghton, a friend of the Ballance family who has played a significant part in the player's development, feels he has what it takes. The cynical might suggest that, given Alastair Cook's form, Ballance is in effect doing the job already.

But Ballance, of course, maintained the party line when asked about England's beleaguered captain. "Knowing what Cooky is like, he'll still be very positive and upbeat," he said. "He's a fantastic cricketer, a fantastic captain and his scores over the years prove that.

"He'll obviously be disappointed not getting a score today. But he'll keep going hard and I'm sure it will be a matter of time before he gets that big score."

Even if the description of Cook as a "fantastic captain" might raise some eyebrows, Ballance's assessment of the game position was much more to the mark.

"We're 70 odd behind, with still some good batters coming in and who can score quickly," he said. "If we can get two more partnerships, and try to get a lead, on this wicket we can put India under a bit of pressure. The third innings is always a crucial part of the game. So if we can get that lead, and bowl well, we can push for a victory."

And his reaction to the coverage of the night out in Nottingham?

"I didn't see it coming," he said, "It was a bit embarrassing. I was probably a bit naive, but I didn't really break any rules. I was just having fun after a Test match. But I'll learn from that, and probably won't do it again.

"It's been an interesting week. I didn't really expect it, but it's nice to score some runs and put us back in a decent position.

"I felt a bit of pressure turning up on day one, with what happened. But everyone around me was very supportive: the coaches, all the players, my family were backing me and saying 'mistakes happen; you've got to learn from it and move on'. Luckily I took a catch in the third or fourth over and that calmed me down a lot."

Ballance may well be calming the nerves of England supporters just as much in the coming years.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roshan on July 19, 2014, 17:41 GMT

    Great stuff from Ballance. He's made a good innings every Test so far, and he's shown the temperament to bat for a long time which is needed for a first drop. Thank God we have sorted this position out quickly - Australia still haven't got theirs!!!!! He has a decent technique, grit, determination, temperament and he steps up in tough circumstances. Trott would approve.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    well done, gary ballance. those who cal him a left-handed trott are wrong: as he showed when he went to his first test hundred so quickly, this is a man with many more than one gear, and the nous to play according to the circs. even this hundred, in an innings in which the next highest score was 32, was achieved in comfortable less than five hours. don't look for faults in his technique until he really shows them

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2014, 4:44 GMT

    He is fine young man a good batsman and I admire how he constructed his inning. Off the field, it sure was not a big deal. He was enjoying himself which everyone has the right to do. certainly not a big deal. He did not make any trouble to others after the drinking. On side note, I think Eng has it's batting sorted out bar "Veterans". All youngsters have made substantial & consistent contributions in whatever little matches they have played. And young fella, do not stop enjoying life, only care need to be taken is do not trouble others, punch others while you few glasses down.

  • Sundaram on July 19, 2014, 3:37 GMT

    Everybody is talking of Ballance being seen with his shirt off in a private nightclub. Alastair Cook has been caught with his trousers off (yet again) at Lord's and nobody thinks it's a big deal.

    Sign of the times we live in , I guess.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2014, 3:36 GMT

    Not playing forward may suit him in England but when he tours over seas it might cause problems. For those who say he has effectively replaced KP and Trott, only time will tell when he tours the slower lower surfaces.

  • Tahir on July 18, 2014, 23:25 GMT

    Wonderful work by balance. He continued his night out with this century against india specially he hit binny all around. He spit his anger against media during his innings. He capitalized on the fact that India are effectively playing with one bowler who is only effective when ball is new and then dhoni comes up like he is a spinner. Shami is not able to bend his back and ishant is his ownself. Balance and Root form will effect cook/bell positively as they will ease into batting knowing able support down the order. It is valid to cook/bell as they are legendary players but not to ordinary openers/top order.

  • Paulo on July 18, 2014, 21:08 GMT

    Ballance is turning into a fine young batsman. His domestic record was excellent so good things were expected, but in his test career at least he is becoming a fine young batsman.

    His patience and ability to grind out runs are characteristics which should serve him well throughout his test career. Hopefully he can develop into a longterm Jonathan Trott replacement. He certainly has the makings of it.

    This article mentions that the job of number 3 was given to a "rookie". Not only was a rookie in the sense of playing test cricket, but also in batting 3. He bats 5 for Yorkshire and so many of us were naturally critical of this, but it seems to be a decision well vindicated.

    Well done Gary. Keep it up

  • John on July 18, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    Am I right in saying that Ballance effectively replaced KP. Looks like it turned out to be a good move as I can't imagine KP (with his waning abilities) scoring this many runs during the same period. If KP did manage to score as many runs, there would have been a lot more noise about it.

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